By the end of 2009, Brunel University had come to a crossroads with their flagship learning management system. Their options were clear; either, recommit to Blackboard, the owners of their WebCT virtual learning environment or, alternatively, migrate to an open source platform used by some institutions in the UK.

I spoke with Alex Osmond, Project Manager of VLE Transition at Brunel University, to sift through their internal and external documentation and, most importantly, pick the brain of someone who was involved in one of the toughest decisions an e-Learning Department can face.

“We have about 15,000 students and three thousand staff,” Alex started, “and two thousand of those instructors use the VLE on a regular basis.”

With so many faculty impacted by their decision, the University developed a VLE Strategy Group, comprised of technology team members, academic faculty and other staff, to evaluate the current state of e-learning at their institution and look forward to where online instruction needed to transition in the future.

“The group built a ‘Final Report’ that thoroughly compares Blackboard Learn and open source platforms. Many of the findings were directly influenced by input and experiences shared by other Universities in the UK who had recently conducted their own analysis,” Alex said.

After the development of the initial document, the VLE Strategy group presented their research to a collection of academic leaders for further analysis and deliberation. Another, more abridged article, referred to as the “Executive Summary” for LMS evaluation at Brunel University, was created from these sessions.

One highlight of the documentation is the comparison of costs, both in terms of up-front capital and development resources, of implementing a new e-learning system.

From their Final Report, Brunel University concluded that choosing Blackboard would save their institution hundreds of thousands of dollars over the first three years of implementation.

“A big part of the price comparison was influenced by what other institutions experienced and shared with us. We got their figures, broke them down by year, and that’s what you see in the report.” Alex explained. “In the short term, and by most accounts, Blackboard Learn was a much cheaper option because we didn’t have to pay for unnecessary software development.”

After thoroughly evaluating both systems, the University opted to designate Blackboard Learn, 9.1 as their next LMS. Full details of their timeline and progress can be found on the Brunel University upgrade blog and by following their Twitter account.

To see how other institutions have carried out their LMS/VLE evaluations, just visit the Evaluation Resource Center. We have assembled rubrics, survey instruments and results, timelines and reports from universities and colleges that have compared and contrasted their e-learning options.

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